Andrew Horwood, a fundraiser at the Welcome Hall Mission, which aids needy people in Montreal, seeks advice about how best to organize efforts to solicit big gifts.
I work for a medium-size charity with an annual budget of approximately $8-million and 100 employees. We operate a homeless shelter, the largest food bank in town, and other services. We recently started a major-gift program, and our main issue is how to determine who to assign to a donor, especially in cases where the administrator of a family foundation is also a major-gift prospect.
We have a person in charge of soliciting money from foundations and an associate executive director assigned to major gifts. Who should approach the director of a family foundation to explore a major gift? Should it be the person who started the relationship? Or should both the officer for foundations and the major-gift officer simultaneously build relationships with the same individual donor? How long after a relationship has been cultivated with a family foundation is it advisable to approach the family for a major gift?
You should form a major-gift committee of everyone who interacts with donors to determine the best person to approach each potential donor and how to cement a solid relationship between that person and your organization. Monthly meetings of the committee are a good way to start.
Try to avoid situations in which fundraisers “hoard” donors because they want to get credit for a gift. Some organizations give credit for a gift to every staff member who has interacted with a donor, which helps avoid competition among your staff members.
As for who should approach a prospective donor, that will be determined by the major-gift committee, based on an individual prospect’s interests and who he or she knows within your organization. Generally for your best prospects, you should choose the person with the highest standing in your organization, provided that that person has or can form a cordial relationship with the person you hope will become a major donor.
Keep in mind that multiple contacts from individuals within your organization may be completely appropriate. It may also be appropriate for your organization to ask for multiple gifts from the same individual. This should all be up for discussion by your major-gift committee. The goal is to make good decisions about what is best for your organization and the donor, with the use of data you have gathered about the donor, his or her giving history, and honest discussion.
As for how soon you can ask a potential donor for a gift, there is no standard time. It could be on your second visit or it could take two years. The answer is that the solicitation occurs when both sides are ready, and the donor should have more say in determining the timing than your organization.
In fundraising, we teach development officers that there are six “rights” when it comes to asking people for money. Aim for the right person to ask the right donor for the right amount in the right form at the right time and for the right purpose. If you adhere steadfastly to these principles, you should be able to build a solid major-gift program.
What other advice would you offer to Mr. Horwood? Use the comment link below to add to the discussion. And if you need advice on a different fundraising problem or issue, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.